What a Physician Learned from Dispensing Medical Marijuana

100915_What a Physician Learned from Dispensing Medical Marijuana 

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“We should give patients more ability to manage their treatment.”

These are the bold words of David Casarett, the director of hospice and palliative care at Penn Medicine and the author of ‘Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana,” in his article published on The New York Times. And one of the best ways to give patients more authority over their illnesses is to legalize medical marijuana.

Take Casarett’s patient Robin for example. Although only in her 40s, Robin is already saddled with rheumatoid arthritis, a very painful condition that causes her hands to twist and her legs to walk with an aluminum walker. Because of this, she is one of Casarett’s dozen of patients who are seeking recommendation letters in order to let them buy medical marijuana at weed dispensaries.

According to Robin, marijuana helped her sleep as it relieves most of the pain in her joints. But most of all marijuana helped put her in charge, as she can decide when to use it and how much she needs—the same sentiments of many medical marijuana advocates all over the country.

“Many people with serious illnesses turn to medical marijuana because they’re not getting the careful, comprehensive treatment they need for symptoms like pain, nausea, or anxiety,” said Casarett. “That was certainly true for Robin, whose physicians didn’t seem to have the time or the skills to help her.”

Of course, a typical 15-minute consultation won’t be enough for anyone who’s looking for more personalized care. However, Casarett argues that there are still several ways that a high level of care can be delivered without extending patient and physician interaction.

One, patients should learn from other similar patients. “Who better to offer advice about how to get your prescriptions filled on weekends, or how to swallow those large pills, than someone who has already figured it out?” Casarett asked. He points to patient community websites like PatientsLikeMe as a valuable resource.

Another way is to give patients more time to interact with other staff members in the physician’s office. After all, patients spend more time in the waiting room than with actual doctors, so educating the office staff can prove to be a great investment in the long run. “They gave detailed answers to [Robin’s] questions about various marijuana strains, the unpredictable absorption of cannabinoids in edibles, and even how to clean and maintain her vaporizer. That advice took time, but none of it required an extra minute with a physician,” Casarett said.

Finally, giving patients more ability to manage their treatment regimen using the strategies that worked for them is a surefire way to give personalized care. “Giving patients more control doesn’t mean handing over a blank prescription pad,” Casarett said. “Patients can gain more control—safely—if they understand a drug’s effects and duration, and if they have some leeway in when and how to use it.”

Indeed, these are some valuable lessons that can be applied to both the medical marijuana and healthcare industries.

How else can physicians assist their patients with regard to medical marijuana? Voice your opinions in the comments section below – your opinion matters to the nation.

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